Vincent Liem de la Paz

Vicente Liem de la Paz (Vietnamese: Vinh Sơn Lê Quang Liêm) (1732 – November 7, 1773) was a Tonkinese
(present day northern Vietnam) Dominican friar venerated as a saint and martyr by the Roman Catholic Church.St. Vincent Liêm was born 1732 at Thôn Đông, Trà Lũ village, Phú Nhai district, Nam Định province. His parents were Mr. Antôn and Monica Thiều Đạo.  Perhaps due to an unhealthy condition at his birth, his mother baptized him and named him Vincent.  In 1744, at the age of 12, Liêm joined the seminary in Lục Thủy.  Recognizing his gifts of intelligence and piety, Fr. Espinosa Huy, O.P. sent him to study at St. John Lateran in Manila, the Philippines.  Vincent Liêm received a Dominican habit and entered the novitiate on Sept 09, 1753.  One year later, together with three country men, he made his religious profession and chose for himself the names Vincent Liêm de la Paz, meaning Vincent Liêm of Peace.  He continued to study theology at the University of Santo Tomás for four more years and was ordained a priest in 1758.  On Oct. 03rd of the same year, he embarked a ship and returned home to start his ministry.  The ship arrived in Vietnam on January 20th, 1759. 

In 1738, King Philip V of Spain opened the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in the Philippines to Chinese and Tonkinese students, since China and Tonkin did not have Christian educational institutions. The Dominican fathers decided to let Liem with four other Tonkinese (Jose de Santo Tomas, Juan de Sto. Domingo, Pedro Martir and Pedro de San Jacinto) study in the Philippines.

Vicente took the trivium and the quadrivium in Colegio de San Juan de Letran, now the equivalent of elementary and secondary education. He finished a degree of lector of humanities at Letran. He would pursue his collegiate education at the University of Santo Tomas while residing at Letran. In September 1753, after completing his studies at UST, he entered the Dominican order, along with his four Tonkinese companions. A year later, they made their solemn professions. On January 28, 1755, he received the tonsure and minor orders at the Church of Sta. Ana. In 1758, de la Paz was ordained priest under the Dominican order. On September of that year, he passed the examinations to hear confessions. On October 3, he started his journey back to Tonkin. He arrived on January 20, 1759.

Fr. Vincente Liêm de la Paz had ministered his people for 14 years as a seminary professor as well as a priest.  His first assignment was to teach at the seminary of Trung Linh.  He then served in many parishes, such as Quất Lâm, Lục Thủy, Trung Lễ, Trung Lao, and Lai Ổn.  The book The Catholic Church in Vietnam, vol. I, describes his services as follows: “His ministries were not limited within parishes, but expanded to the villages of non-Catholic regardless of the obstacles and threats during the persecution under the Lord Trịnh Sâm (1767-1782). Everywhere he ardently loved and helped everybody. He exhorted everybody to be courageous, consoled the sorrowful and encouraged the faithful to be strong and not to be afraid of any difficulty and danger.”

Preaching under any condition (2 Tim 4:2)
On the feast of Our Lady of Rosary, October 2nd 1773, while Father Vincent was directing a parish mission at Lương Đống (Thái Bình), he was arrested and sent to Trần Văn Hiển in Xích Bích. Mr. Trần hoped to extort some ransom and imprisoned Fr. Vincent for 12 days. When this plan failed, he sent Fr. Vincent to Phố Hiến and turned him to a government officer. Fr. Vincent met Fr. Jacinto Castaneda, O.P. in prison there. On October 20 1773, both Dominican priests were forced to carry a yoke stamped with four words “Hoa Lang Đạo Sư then sent to Thăng Long.  During this time, the history of the Church at Bắc Hà recorded an important debate among the four major religions: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddishm, and Catholicism. The content of the debate was written in a small book titled: “Hội Đồng Tứ Giáo” – The Council of Four Religions. This council was called by an officer of Lord Trịnh Sâm (1767-1782). The debate lasted for three days. “During the debate, the Catholic representatives applied the Apologetic methodology and also used the classic references from Chinese literatures to explain their theory so clearly that they earned the officer’s admiration.” According to historian Gispert, the author of “Sử Ký Địa Phận Trung”, the two priests were Fr. Castaneda Gia (Jacinto) and Fr. Vincent Liêm – probably Fr. Liêm was the author of “The Council of Four Religions.” These two priests were condemned to death by decapitation under Trịnh Sâm, and on November 7, 1773, the soldiers brought them both to the execution ground.  For St. Vincent Liem and Fr. Gia, the words of St. Paul were true: “I suffer for the Gospel and being chained like a criminal; but the Word of God is not chained” (2Tim 2:9).  Even chains, beatings, and suffering could not chain the Word of God and Jesus’ messenger will always preach the Word in season and out of season, nothing could prevent them from preaching the Word, not even imprisonment and death (2Tim 4:2).

Live oR Die for the Faith
When escorting the prisoners passing by the imperial palace, the officer ordered both priests to stop to hear the king’s condemnation or release.  One officer said: “Gia and Liêm were condemned to death because they are priests of a banned religion, Hoa Lang.” Another officer also added in a loud voice: “The Hoa Lang religion was banned, but up to now there has been no Vietnamese condemned to death because of this religion. Therefore, Mr. Liem should receive a general amnesty for he is Vietnamese.” Fr. Liêm, however, on the one hand wanted to save Fr. Gia and on the other hand wanted to die for his faith, raised his voice in objection: “If Fr. Gia is condemned to death for religious reason, I should deserve the same sentence. He and I both are priests; if the law of the country does not condemn me, neither should it condemn Fr. Gia. Since I am Vietnamese, I should obey the rule of my own country more than the foreigners. If Fr. Gia is killed and I am released, the sentence would not be fair. I would like to request that we should have the same sentence. That would be fair.” Then both priests were escorted to the execution ground of Đồng Mơ to be beheaded. Both were praising God, murmuring the Act of Contrition, reciting the “Creed”, and singing “Salve Regina.” As the drums and gongs were beating, the executioner decapitated Fr. Liêm with one slash of the sword and Fr. Gia with three slashes.  That day two Dominican priests, one native and one foreigner, had borne witness to Jesus Christ by their own lives.

The First Vietnamese Martyr
According to the words of the officer who wanted to set Fr. Vincent Liêm free, Fr. Vincent was the first Vietnamese martyr decapitated at Bắc Hà.  He probably didn’t know that back in 1630-1631, a Vietnamese Catholic layman named Phan Sinh, a royal attendant, was killed for his faith. Perhaps this death was not recorded because there was no official warrant. In any case, Fr. Vincent Liêm was the first Vietnamese clergyman and the first Vietnamese Dominican priest shedding blood for the faith. The Vietnamese Dominican Friars of the Vicariate are so proud to have as their patron the first Dominican martyr who had shed his blood on their ancestral soil.  Pope Pius X beatified Fr. Vincent Liem together with Fr. Jacinto Castaneda on April 15, 1906, and Pope John Paul II canonized them on June 19 1988.

The Saint of all CATHOLICS IN NORTH OF Vietnam
Among hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics who shed their blood for their faith during 300 years of persecution, many had no names.  However, the patron of the Vietnamese Dominican Vicariate, not only was numbered among the 117 Vietnamese Martyrs honored by the universal church, he also was known under few different last names. According to The Catholic Church in Vietnam, some called him Fr. Vincent Phạm Hiếu Liêm, some others called him Vincent Phan Hiếu Liêm, and still others called him Vincent Nguyễn Hiếu Liêm.  Fr. Vũ Thành, in his book Dòng Máu Anh Hùng, Vol. I, called him Vincent Lê Quang Liêm.  Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly what his true last name is since we don’t have any official document for cross reference.  It may be that people wanted to impose their last names on him to show their devotion to him or to claim him as their own families’ member.  If this is the case, St. Vincent Liêm is truly the saint of all the people of Bắc Hà.  However, in his letters sent to his friends, he signed as Vincente de la Paz, O.P. (Vincent of Peace – The Catholic Church in Vietnam, Vol. I, p. 416).  The name that he chose reflects his intention to be a sign of peace and unity.  As the first Vietnamese martyr on the soil of Vietnam, he has become the seed that brought true peace to those who believe in Jesus as God and Savior.  However, when we simply greet him as Vincent Liêm – the name given by his parents, we really consider him to be our true brother of the Vicariate family.  It is in this family’s love that the Vietnamese Dominican Friars of the Vicariate remember him and choose him to be our patron saint.  He is truly our brother and model of faith, hope, love, wisdom, and especially the desire to pursue truth through open dialogues with respect and humility.  More importantly, the Vietnamese Dominican Friars also would like to follow his love for mission, wisdom, reverence and courage and to be ready to preach the Word whether convenient or inconvenient (2 Tim 4:2).

He spent time at Tonkin on evangelizing the Tonkinese people. However the Tonkinese authorities did not agree with this. On October 2, 1773, he and his two assistants were arrested at Co Dou. He and his assistants were beaten up, after which they traveled on foot to the village of Dou Hoi. There he met another Dominican priest, Jacinto Castaneda. They were presented to the Vice Governor and to the Royal Minister. They were thrown to a cage for a night. The arrival of a High Minister prompted their transfer to Kien Nam, where the King held his court. While under detention, they still managed to preach Catholicism to the people. Later they were taken to Tan Cau, then to the house of Canh Thuy. Finally they were brought to the King where they were tried. Their trial led for the King to be angry and they were thrown to jail. After several days, the King brought down the guilty verdict with the penalty of beheading. The execution occurred on November 7, 1773. After the execution, the Christians who were present at the site carried away the bodies of de la Paz and Castaneda, where they were laid to rest at the town of Tru Linh. Several more Christian missionaries were put to death by the Tonkinese authorities.

The process of beatification of de la Paz and Casteneda, as well as other Dominican martyrs, was initiated through Vicar Apostolic Bishop Ignacio Delgado, O.P. They were beatified by Pope Pius X with his feast day on November 6. Pope John Paul II announced the canonization of de la Paz on June 19, 1988, with his feast day on November 24.
Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0-140-51312-4.